As the Virgin Islands approaches the New Year, it’s prudent to reflect on the many high points of 2023 and to analyse what could have gone better.
In many ways, 2023 was a year of healing following the exposure of major fissures in the bedrock of democracy last year.
We refer, of course, to the arrest of former premier Andrew Fahie on drug conspiracy charges in the United States and the subsequent publication of the Commission of Inquiry report.
These explosive events came even as the territory grappled with the Covid-19 pandemic and the recovery from the unprecedented destruction wrought by the 2017 hurricanes.
Coming after such a difficult year, 2023 gave VI residents plenty to celebrate.
For instance, the reforms recommended by the COI report proceeded in earnest despite a few hitches, bringing a needed reckoning into many long-standing governance problems in the territory. The hard work of reform — which continued fairly steadily even through an election season — also headed off the threat of temporary direct rule by the United Kingdom.
Additionally, the pandemic ended in May, allowing the tourism industry to roar back to life.
It seems clear that the VI’s reputation among international visitors remains strong, setting the stage for the government to create a badly needed tourism strategy to address topics including the proposed airport expansion and the viability of continuing to expand the cruise sector.
This year also brought good news in United Kingdom-overseas territory relations, which are currently under close review in what we would like to think is a sign of an evolving partnership.
But despite the successes of 2023, there were also many challenges.
Though the government’s recovery from Hurricane Irma saw progress in some areas, it remained largely stalled overall for want of the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to make it happen. As a result, many badly needed projects — including schools, courts libraries and public offices — remain outstanding. Securing the promised loan funding to tackle these projects is urgent.
The VI’s other major economic pillar — financial services — suffered a tough year, with incorporation numbers hitting 20-year lows following a European Union blacklisting in February. The territory worked quickly to weather that storm and managed to get off the blacklist by October, but the global regulatory landscape is constantly changing and another key report looms next year.
In light of such turbulence, much more work needs to be done to diversify this economic engine away from its high reliance on company formations.
Similarly, policymakers would also do well to dedicate time in 2024 to devise legislation and policy to encourage broader diversification and strengthening of the economy beyond financial services and tourism — though we caution that any such efforts should be grounded in well-researched efforts.
Too often, millions in public funds have been spent on pet projects that were hastily conceived and have borne little fruit.
Ultimately, though, we are encouraged by the successes of 2023, which have shown the Virgin Islands’ resilience in the face of monumental adversity.
Looking toward 2024 with high hopes, we wish everyone a joyous holiday season and happy New Year.